I Am A Veteran History Teacher. Let Me Teach History

tags: curriculum, culture war, teaching history, critical race theory

Valencia Ann Abbott is the social studies department chair and a history teacher at Rockingham Early College High School in Wentworth, North Carolina. Abbott spearheads “The Civil Rights Movement Beyond 1968: Griggs vs. Duke Power Company” project, marking the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling in a landmark employment discrimination case.

A couple of years ago, as I listened to a radio report about how North Carolina’s strict voter ID law “targets African Americans with almost surgical precision,” my eyes welled with tears. I wondered: Why do they hate us so much? Now the headlines in North Carolina, the state where I live and teach U.S. history, civics, and economics, read: “North Carolina House approves bill to limit teaching of race.” My reaction this time is different: This cannot and will not continue.

And it’s not just North Carolina. Lawmakers in states around the country are attempting to block the teaching of critical race theory, which looks at how racism continues to affect individuals and society. (One such bill was signed into law in Tennessee this week.)

I am a Black woman, and teaching my history — telling the truth about it — should not be controversial. Teaching historical facts in context should not merit a parent email that turns into a parent conference with the administration. An award-winning, vetted book should not be why calls are made to the district central office. Teachers are professionals, and while every lesson is not perfect, each teaching moment has the potential to challenge students, help them grow, and inspire their love of learning.

As a history teacher, a professional educator with years of experience in the classroom, my main job is to teach historical truths. Each year I attend so many professional development sessions that I sometimes don’t even turn in all of my continuing education credit certificates because I have surpassed the requirements for teacher recertification. In addition, I regularly connect with colleagues and organizations on social media to bring my students the most comprehensive and contemporary understanding of my content area. Finally, I often spend weekends at historical sites or walking trails while listening to the latest book talk on relevant topics. I do this so that I can be better, stronger, and know more for my students — and also because I have a passion for the study of history.

I come to my classroom prepared to teach, with hours of planning and research under my belt. Yet, after several recent incidents, I have left the classroom deflated, accused, and filled with anxiety. For example, one of my recent lessons about how the First Amendment protects the right to protest included an article about the Black Lives Matter movement that was met with criticism from a parent.

“They don’t do that in our home,” the parent told me.

Do what, I wondered. Learn about a current event that is gripping the country? Understand that that history is steeped in protest and civil rights are hard-won? See value in the lives of people of African descent? What do they think the American Revolution was, if not a big, old protest?

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